North Dakota look to break Bemidji’s goaltending
The Highway 2 rivalry will be renewed this weekend at the Ralph Englestad Arena. The University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks host the Bemidji State Beavers in men’s hockey.
The Beavers, who come in at 4-0, have swept Bowling Green and Northern Michigan.
The hot start for the Beavers puts them in the National Polls for the first time since 2010.
“Very experienced, hardworking team,” said head coach Brad Berry. “It’s a traditional Bemidji State team. It’s gonna be a tough weekend, and we know that.”
The Hawks are no strangers to being in the National polls, but this weekend will be the first big test for the defending national champions, who come in with a home sweep over Canisius, and a victory over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute last weekend.
The Beavers will look to hand UND its first October loss under Brad Berry.
Normally, when these two teams meet for a non-conference match, it’s a home-and-home series where one game is in Bemidji and the other in Grand Forks.
Last time the Beavers beat the Hawks, it was at the Ralph on opening night in 2014. Since that night, UND has been impressive in front of their home fans, winning 34 games in a year and a half.
UND has been dominant on offense this season. They have been outshooting their opponents by an average of 25 shots.
Credit is due to the defense, but most of the shots are thanks to the offense, having picked up right where it left off last season.
While they have been phenomenal, there are still some things they can work on.
“The last couple games, chasing the lead, that’s something we have talked about,” Brad Berry said. “I don’t think our starts have been poor, it’s just execution on a couple things we have to sharpen up.”
Led by Hobey Baker hopeful Brock Boeser and Colorado Avalanche first-round draft pick Tyson Jost, the offense has been sizzling, and it will look to continue against a team that has traditionally played tough, physical hockey.
The Beavers also have one of the most experienced goaltenders in the nation.
The Beavers will put Moorhead native Michael Bitzer in goal this weekend. Bitzer has been nothing short of exceptional for the Beavers. In four games, Bitzer has allowed only two goals and has a save percentage of .977 this season.
It will be extremely important for the Hawks to score on special teams this weekend, a task Bowling Green and Northern Michigan couldn’t do.
The Beavers’ opponents have had multiple chances to score a man-up, but out of 22 chances, the Beavers have allowed zero goals on the power play.
Bemidji State is very effective on the power play. Out of the Beavers’ 10 goals, three of them have come when their opponents were short-handed. It’s safe to say the Hawks need to win the special team battles if they want to be successful this weekend against 18th ranked Beavers.
Ralph Englestad Arena is easily one of the best atmospheres in college hockey and the crowd will be a big factor this weekend.
This series will start a tough stretch of games for the Hawks.
Their next four opponents have a combined record of 11-3-2. Four of their next five series are against teams that are currently ranked in the top 20.
“The season will get harder as we go, with Bemidji, who’s 4-0 on the schedule, and obviously not looking past them, but Duluth and the Gophs and Denver coming up,” Christian Wolanin said “We have a pretty big month coming up here.”
This weekend’s games are scheduled for Friday and Saturday with puck drop at 7:37 p.m., and 7:07 p.m., respectively.
Hunter Plante is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]